The effective treatment of addiction requires a combination of strategies. Usually, experts use two main strategies:
- A psychotherapeutic approach which includes counselling and therapy sessions; and
- A pharmacological approach using medications.
In treating alcohol and drug dependence, it is very important that effective therapies are used in both the detoxification phases and in the prevention of relapse. Medical experts agree that treating addiction is always effective when both detoxification and relapse are done right.
Naltrexone and Alcohol Dependence
One of the most widely used medications in treating addiction is Naltrexone. Naltrexone belongs to a class of drugs called opioid antagonists. Although it was initially developed to be used in patients addicted to opioids like morphine, codeine, and heroine, it found good cause to be used in alcohol dependence too. In one of the early studies conducted on the use of naltrexone, researchers found that it was highly effective especially when patients are compliant. Another early study confirmed its usefulness in preventing alcohol relapse, a major problem many patients face.
Compared with other medications, naltrexone is usually more effective and tolerated. For instance, Acamprosate is a drug used in treating alcohol addiction, which works by balancing the chemicals and neurotransmitters in the brain. In a highly important study comparing naltrexone with acamprosate, the results were outstanding. According to the study, participants in the naltrexone group had a significantly greater cumulative number of days of abstinence and significantly less number of drinks consumed at one time, the severity of craving, and percentage of heavy drinking days compared to participants in the acamprosate group. Participants in the naltrexone groups were also seen to attend and be more involved in therapy sessions.
Naltrexone and Drug Addiction
Naltrexone has also been studied in cases of drug abuse withdrawal. A two-site study concluded that naltrexone, even in very low doses beyond clinical recognition is “a safe and effective method to reduce withdrawal severity and treatment discomfort in opioid-dependent participants”. The study also pointed out that it “showed improvement over a standard treatment for opioid-dependent patients attempting detoxification”. In essence, naltrexone is highly effective during stages of drug abuse detoxification.
Other options like methadone have been shown to have many side effects like higher incidences of addiction and death. In one study, methadone suppressed the production of testosterone, an important sex hormone, in the body.
ARCA Addiction Treatment
But there is much more to naltrexone. Drugs to be used in treating addiction need to have a certain stable pharmacokinetic profile which naltrexone fits perfectly. Naltrexone is easy to use as there are currently many different formulations ranging from tablets to sustained-release forms. Some tablets are made so that you take them once in two days so that you don’t have to worry about taking the drug every day.
Also, it has little to no serious side effects (especially when used in the recommended doses), does not carry the risk of addiction—other medications like suboxone carry the possibility of causing addiction—and there is no development of tolerance.
Tolerance is when there is a gradual reduction in the effects of a drug due to repeated use. So that no matter how many times you use naltrexone, it is always effective.
Why ARCA Recommends Naltrexone
A study carried out in 2015 showed the effectiveness of our treatment strategies, one of which includes using naltrexone in place of other options. It showed that our treatment strategies are effective and highly relevant to addiction problems in South Africa.
At ARCA, we recommend evidence-based treatments. Over the years, we have been known as one of the few centres in South Africa that use naltrexone in treating addiction. And while we recognise that compliance is a major obstacle to addiction treatment, we also have strategies in place to tackle the problem.